Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 8, No. 2, August 2012, 157–168
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The present study investigates the instruction of a novice teacher by an expert mentor teacher, while applying the strategy of asking questions instead of the more common pattern of giving advice and guidance in the form of telling. The study explores the educational potential embedded in the question-asking strategy as a key mentoring resource when used between an experienced teacher educator and a novice teacher for the professional development of both.
The participants were a graduate of the science instruction program at a national teacher training college in Israel and an experienced teacher educator.
Data were collected by documenting their personal meetings and collecting the email printouts and notes written by the expert mentor in the novice teacher’s journal.
The process of a reflective dialog through asking questions led to deeper analysis by the mentor and novice and effected a change in the paradigm of the novice–mentor relationship. Being aware of the importance of reflection for novice teachers led the mentor to use a question-asking style of mentoring that she believed would enable the novice to become an independent learner, one who asked himself questions, constructed knowledge by himself and integrated it into his previous knowledge. As they entered into the process of their questioning dialog, however, questions arose in the mentor's mind about the effectiveness of an approach in which the novice resolves his teaching dilemmas and difficulties for himself, aided by guiding questions. Documenting the novice teacher’s experiences and analyzing their interaction helped the novice teacher and the mentor become more aware of their implicit beliefs about their styles of mentoring and teaching. The growth in the novice teacher occurred mainly as a result of the questioning dialog that developed between them. The reflective dialog afforded the novice teacher a deep, incisive, and critical view of himself as a teacher and helped to motivate him to discover his own truths and teaching style.
The question-asking approach of mentoring required restraint on my part. Asking questions left room for the novice teacher’s original thought and encouraged him to form his own professional identity. The questioning dialog eventually enabled the novice teacher to clarify his values so that he could develop his own principles of good teaching.
Through self-study of her mentoring approach, the mentor was able to discover a pattern of dialog based on guided question-asking in mentoring the novice teacher. This is an important finding in light of the fact that mentors may lack the communication skills needed to assist novices when attempting to discuss their teaching and learning.
Self-study of their question-asking dialog helped the mentor to notice the subtleties and complexities of this mentoring approach. For example, she needed to be able to recognize those issues raised by the novice that could be answered and those that required his further exploration through questioning and deeper thinking. Some of her guiding questions supported the novice teacher’s concerns, some hinted at a new direction of thought, and others stimulated exploration in outside sources, depending on the teaching context or his personal needs. The one-to-one mentoring experience gave the novice teacher and the mentor the privilege of choosing which of the novice teacher’s questions to relate to and which not, including both relevant and irrelevant questions.
Doing the self-study also helped the mentor realize the need to recognize times when the novice’s frustration of being left without an answer might not be helpful in advancing his learning and, alternatively, when it might be appropriate for the novice to experience the frustration of persisting with my questions, hopefully coming to recognize the advantages of the process in forming a professional identity.
In conclusion, the dynamic questioning dialog between two “learners” can strengthen novice teachers’ self-confidence and professional identity. This self-study serves as an example of a teacher educator’s readiness to examine more closely her own mentoring style and its effects on the novice, and to better understand the contribution of a reflective dialog to the professional growth of both novice and mentor teacher.